This came via e-mail from my sister, and is excerpted from the book The Invisible Woman: A Special Story for Mothers by Nicole Johnson. It has some things to say that I’m pretty sure many moms will relate to, and they’re said well. However, I felt that it had a “mom as martyr” theme to it; considering that the book can be found in Christian bookstores, I guess that makes sense in the “God first, family second, self last” scheme of things.
At the same time, I say let’s make sure we’re NOT invisible to each other, and it’s not all about “legacy.” The here-and-now is important too. Our accomplishments – which are by no means limited to our children! – truly do deserve to be seen, appreciated, and celebrated, as do the women who are accomplishing them.
UPDATED 9/23 to add: If you have issues with the apparent acceptance of the “invisibility”of motherhood conveyed by the following piece – and comments to this post indicate that some folks do, and I happen to agree – MotherTalk is blog-touring a new book that looks like it will take am opposite tack. Click here to link to this week’s reviews of What Mothers Do: Especially When It Looks Like Nothing by Naomi Stadlen. I’m interested in hearing more about this one.
Perspective: The Invisible Woman
It started to happen gradually. One day I was walking my son Jake toschool. I was holding his hand and we were about to cross the streetwhen the crossing guard said to him, “Who is that with you, youngfella?””Nobody,” he shrugged.“Nobody?” The crossing guard and I laughed. My son is only 5, butas we crossed the street I thought, “Oh my goodness, nobody?”I would walk into a room and no one would notice. I would saysomething to my family – like “Turn the TV down, please” – andnothing would happen.Nobody would get up, or even make a move for the remote. I wouldstand there for a minute, and then I would say again, a littlelouder, “Would someone turn the TV down?” Nothing.Just the other night my husband and I were out at a party. We’d beenthere for about three hours and I was ready to leave. I noticed hewas talking to a friend from work. So I walked over, and when therewas a break in the conversation, I whispered, “I’m ready to go whenyou are.”He just kept right on talking.That’s when I started to put all the pieces together. I don’t thinkhe can see me. I don’t think anyone can see me. I’m invisible.It all began to make sense, the blank stares, the lack of response,the way one of the kids will walk into the room while I’m on thephone and ask to be taken to the store. Inside I’m thinking, “Can’tyou see I’m on the phone?”Obviously not! No one can see if I’m on the phone, or cooking, orsweeping the floor, or even standing on my head in the corner,because no one can see me at all.I’m invisible.Some days I am only a pair of hands, nothing more: Can you fix this?Can you tie this? Can you open this? Some days I’m not a pair ofhands; I’m not even a human being. I’m a clock to ask, “What time isit?” I’m a satellite guide to answer, “What number is the DisneyChannel?” I’m a car to order, “Right around 5:30, please.”I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and theeyes that studied history and the mind that graduated summa cum laude–but now they had disappeared into the peanut butter, never to beseen again.She’s going she’s going she’s gone!One night, a group of us were having dinner, celebrating the returnof a friend from England. Janice had just gotten back from a fabuloustrip, and she was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in. Iwas sitting there, looking around at the others all put together sowell. It was hard not to compare and feel sorry for myself as Ilooked down at my out-of-style dress; it was the only thing I couldfind that was clean. My unwashed hair was pulled up in a banana clipand I was afraid I could actually smell peanut butter in it. I wasfeeling pretty pathetic, when Janice turned to me with a beautifullywrapped package, and said, “I brought you this.”It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe. I wasn’t exactlysure why she’d given it to me until I read her inscription: “ToCharlotte, with admiration for the greatness of what you are buildingwhen no one sees.”In the days ahead I would read – no, devour – the book. And I woulddiscover what would become for me, four life-changing truths, afterwhich I could pattern my work:* No one can say who built the great cathedrals – we have norecord of their names.* These builders gave their whole lives for a work they wouldnever see finished.* They made great sacrifices and expected no credit.* The passion of their building was fueled by their faith that theeyes of God saw everything.
At times, my invisibility feels like an affliction. But it is not adisease that is erasing my life. It is the cure for the disease of myown self-centeredness. It is the antidote to my strong, stubborn pride.I keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder. Asone of the people who show up at a job that they will never seefinished, to work on something that their name will never be on. Thewriter of the book went so far as to say that no cathedrals couldever be built in our lifetime because there are so few people willingto sacrifice to that degree.When I really think about it, I don’t want my son to tell the friendhe’s bringing home from college for Thanksgiving, “My mom gets up at4 in the morning and bakes homemade pies, and then she hand bastes aturkey for three hours and presses all the linens for the table.”That would mean I’d built a shrine or a monument to myself. I justwant him to want to come home. And then, if there is anything more tosay to his friend, to add, “You’re gonna love it there.”As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen ifwe’re doing it right. And one day, it is very possible that the worldwill marvel, not only at what we have built, but at the beauty thathas been added to the world by the sacrifices of invisible women.
Hmph. I read the excerpt, and my primary thought was “Why is she letting people do this to her?”
Were my child to refer to me as “nobody”, I’d call him on it – instantly.
People completely ignore you when you ask them to turn down the TV? You walk over and you turn the damned thing off, and you say “You will NOT ignore me like that. It is incredibly disrespectful.” And the TV doesn’t go back on till I get an apology.
“Inside I think, ‘Can’t you see I’m on the phone?’ ” And why don’t you let that come out? Why keep it on the inside?
While I take your point about being supportive and aware of each other, celebrating our accomplishment (it’s something I consciously try to do every day), I think women like this make themselves invisible, or at any rate, they allow it to happen.
Me, I kind of just wanted to shake her, you know?
MaryP – The concept is along the lines of a mindset I saw often in my years living in the South, acquainted with traditional, churchgoing folks. It’s subjugation. And I completely agree that women like the one in this story allow it to happen.
I understand it, and I know how it feels – but I’ve shed the invisibility cloak, and don’t want to wear it again, so I get what you mean about wanting to shake her. 🙂
I’m with Mary – the most striking thing was that this woman is enabling and perpetuating her family’s self-absorption.